By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
As the Sandpoint Police Department continues to investigate “the potential misuse of public funds” at the Bonner County Fairgrounds on the part of late-Fair Director Darcey Smith, public records show that Smith underwent police questioning in the days prior to her death by apparent suicide.
Smith, who worked as fair director since 2018, died Oct. 31. Bonner County Prosecuting Attorney Louis Marshall, Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler and Sandpoint Police Chief Corey Coon released a joint statement Nov. 14 encouraging community members to “avoid incendiary accusations and finger pointing” and to stop directing “unfounded accusations and threats” toward county employees and other individuals associated with the investigation.
Smith filed a grievance in August against four county employees, alleging harassment both during and leading up to a Fair Board executive session in July, during which county officials from the prosecutor, risk management and human resources departments introduced a number of actions. While initial allegations against Smith from Fair Board members and a fair employee had also prompted the meeting, those allegations were not discussed at that time.
Marshall confirmed Nov. 22 to the Reader that Smith’s grievance was not formally investigated.
“I reviewed the grievance and it did not allege anything that could be construed as a violation of Bonner County policies,” Marshall wrote in an email, noting that while he typically wouldn’t comment publicly on personnel matters, “in this circumstance it was already made public.” “Harassment is well defined in the Bonner County Personnel Policy and the communications between the employees were clearly very professional and not harassing,” Marshall continued. “Additionally it did not allege any type of discrimination or workplace conduct that would trigger state or federal law violations.”
Ultimately, Marshall said “there was nothing to investigate.”
“[Smith] was troubled by the attendance at the Fair Board meeting of some of my employees,” he said. “I had instructed the employees to attend the meeting to assist the Fair Board. Regardless, Fair Board meetings are open to the public anyway.”
SPD officially opened its investigation into Smith on Sept. 20 following a referral from Marshall, almost two months after the executive session prompted by the initial allegations.
In total, according to Coon, those allegations include “failing to follow county policies on part-time employees, completing contracts with said employees and issuing 1099 to said employees for tax purposes”; “using Bonner County Fair funds for personal use”; and “misappropriation of donations from [Sandpoint High School] grad night.”
According to text messages between Smith and Commissioner Dan McDonald, obtained through a Bonner County public records request, Smith said she spoke with Coon on Oct. 26. She relayed this to McDonald, then asked him if there had been “more allegations” made against her.
“I am not in that loop. They are actually keeping me out of it,” McDonald told Smith in a text reply, noting that the commissioners had met with Coon the day prior for a briefing and McDonald had encouraged him to bring each of the “concerns” directly to Smith.
“Just cooperate with the investigation so we can get past this,” McDonald added.
Smith wrote to McDonald that she was “tired of being under attack,” and questioned whether the allegations were simply “concerns,” or whether someone was attempting to “sue” or “fire” her.
“Dan I’ve never been more concerned or embarrassed [in] my life!” she wrote.
“I’m not aware of anyone trying to sue you and we are resolute that we won’t take an action unless there is proof of something,” McDonald replied. “That’s why I told Corey he needs to meet with you and go over what he had questions about.”
According to records, Smith met with Coon the next day on Oct. 27. She texted McDonald afterward, telling him that she was “read [her] rights” and was “shocked” and “embarrassed” to have been called in to meet with Coon and two detectives.
“I am angry, I am confused,” she said. “I didn’t do what they are accusing me of.”
According to Smith’s recounting of that meeting with Coon, she offered to provide the department with “any and all documents they want.” She also said that the officers told her a forensic auditor would be taking part in the investigation, and asked her to schedule an executive session with the Fair Board, SPD and an attorney for Nov. 1.
“He then suggested that I come in and do a polygraph … which I declined,” Smith told McDonald. “I personally don’t believe in those.”
“I would recommend you do the polygraph,” McDonald replied. “While it’s not admissible in court it can help you plus it shows you are cooperating.”
Sandpoint officials did not reply to follow-up questions before press time, so it is unclear whether Smith participated in the polygraph test, or the circumstances surrounding why she had been asked to submit to one.
The investigation is ongoing.
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